Since spring 2021, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has been identifying best practices in psychosocial support to better facilitate collaboration and cooperation between religious actors and mental health professionals who provide services to conflict-affected communities — including trauma-affected displaced persons. The initiative will focus on Latin America as a pilot region, aiming to offer practical recommendations to relevant stakeholders.

Migration and displacement, particularly involving armed conflict, are complex processes which expose persons to stressful events and often trauma. In countries experiencing social upheaval and high levels of violence and polarization, mental health can be a serious challenge to post-peace accord scenarios or peacebuilding. 

The Rev. Nelson Sandoval visits a family drying annatto seeds in El Tukuko, Venezuela

Research has shown that there is a higher prevalence of mental disorders and behavioral problems among displaced persons, which can make unemployment more prevalent and hinder integration into new communities and societies. USIP recognizes the pressing need to bridge the gap between religious actors, mental health professionals and other government and nongovernment actors tasked with the psychosocial support of displaced populations. 

Religious actors are often on the frontlines of responding to the needs — including mental health — of people who have been displaced by violent conflict. Religious and many non-religious people often look to religious actors and institutions to support their psychosocial needs.

Furthermore, religious institutions tend to have broader access to territories and populations, often where other service providers cannot operate, given their ability to work locally while benefitting from the credibility and trust engendered by their religious ties and affiliation. In a time when there are an extraordinary number of trauma-impacted migrants and displaced people worldwide — and when locally available mental health professionals are overburdened or cannot enter the areas where they are needed most — strengthening the capacity of religious actors in this field will enhance trauma support, while still respecting the unique roles and contributions of each actor. 

The Colombian and Venezuelan Context — A Pilot Program

More than 50 years of armed conflict, political exclusion and social inequity have left over 6 million people internally displaced within Colombia. Similarly, recent data suggests that 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants currently reside in Colombia. This creates conditions where the emotional, social and relational lives of victims of displacement and migration are negatively impacted. Common mental health problems among these migrants and displaced persons include fear; a feeling of losing control over life; uncertainty; and more serious and potentially permanent conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Colombian context offers valuable learning opportunities, given that the recurrence of forced displacement is the most common form of victimization, even after the historic 2016 peace agreement. The conflict disproportionately affected Afro-descendant, indigenous and other marginalized ethnic communities, causing trauma and the rupture of the social fabric. Moreover, the extensive work on psychosocial support by diverse actors, particularly religious institutions, offers lessons to better inform support for displaced trauma survivors in other contexts. For instance, the Catholic Church has been a pioneer in supporting victims and doing advocacy work for the recognition of victim’s rights. Meanwhile, protestant churches, through diverse NGOs and ecumenical networks, have contributed to diverse forms of psychosocial support and have jointly organized activities to acknowledge victims. 

With the increased migration of Venezuelans to Colombia, local faith-based organizations and religious actors are providing psychosocial services to the migrant population and coordinating efforts with government institutions to improve the response to the humanitarian crisis. Therefore, it is relevant to identify the lessons learned in this process to inform future efforts in other countries.

The Connection between Mental Health, Psychosocial Support and Religious Actors

This project seeks to facilitate more effective collaboration between religious actors and mental health professionals who offer support to conflict-affected communities — with a focus on displaced persons who have experienced traumatic stress.

Through this project, USIP will:

  1. Build better understanding by conducting and disseminating research to map and identify current efforts, resources, best practices and evidence-based interventions to inform policy and practice.
  2. Strategically disseminate research findings through various fora, including publications.
  3. Foster effective collaboration between religious and traditional actors and mental health professionals to encourage more effective psychosocial support for survivors of conflict-related trauma.
  4. Engage religious actors, mental health professionals, NGOs and public officials through virtual online learning and exchange platforms.

Related Publications

Peaceful Masculinities: Religion and Psychosocial Support Amid Forced Displacement

Peaceful Masculinities: Religion and Psychosocial Support Amid Forced Displacement

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

By: Negar Ashtari Abay, Ph.D.;  Andrés Martínez;  Carolina Buendia Sarmiento

The number of people displaced globally due to conflict and violence nearly doubled between 2010 and 2020 from 41 million to 78.5 million, the highest number on record. Forced displacement, within and across national borders, exposes persons to stressful events and trauma, making psychosocial support a critical part of successful integration in new communities and societies. Those forcibly displaced include women and girls, men and boys, and gender and sexual minorities.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

GenderReligion

View All

Latest Publications

Beijing’s Strategy for Asserting Its “Party Rule by Law” Abroad

Beijing’s Strategy for Asserting Its “Party Rule by Law” Abroad

Thursday, September 29, 2022

By: Jordan Link;  Nina Palmer;  Laura Edwards

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has taken steps to assert more influence over the international legal system and to shape the global legal environment to better serve its political and economic objectives. This report examines the potential ramifications of China’s assertive use of new legal tools for US interests and international stability, and discusses several options that the United States and its partners can pursue to bolster the rules-based order that underpins global stability and cooperation.

Type: Special Report

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

Want more accountability for the Taliban? Give more money for human rights monitoring.

Want more accountability for the Taliban? Give more money for human rights monitoring.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

By: Belquis Ahmadi;  Scott Worden

Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly last week, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett released his first report grading the Taliban’s treatment of Afghans’ rights. It was an F. In the past year, the Taliban have engaged in a full-scale assault on Afghan’s human rights, denying women access to public life, dismantling human rights institutions, corrupting independent judicial processes, and engaging in extralegal measures to maintain control or to exact revenge for opposition to their rule. That is one of the main reasons — along with their continued support of al-Qaida and a refusal to form a more inclusive government — that Afghanistan has no representation at the U.N.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human RightsJustice, Security & Rule of Law

Pakistan Presses U.S. to Lead Global Response to Climate Disasters

Pakistan Presses U.S. to Lead Global Response to Climate Disasters

Thursday, September 29, 2022

By: James Rupert

Pakistan’s unprecedented flood disaster is a wakeup call for governments and international institutions on the need to build a worldwide response to the disproportionate burden of climate change on nations of the Global South — a challenge that Pakistan’s foreign minister underscored to U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts Wednesday at USIP. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged policymakers to lead an international effort to use the Pakistan crisis as a catalyst for a more effective international effort to help the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Environment

Education in North Korea: Playing the Long Game

Education in North Korea: Playing the Long Game

Thursday, September 29, 2022

By: Ian Bennett;  Jamin Jamieson

For the last 30 years, U.S.-North Korea engagement has been erratic. Despite moderate success during the 1990s, the inconsistent nature of official engagement with North Korea over the last two decades has hindered sustained progress in improving bilateral relations and the welfare of North Korean civil society. More recently, the compounding effects of diplomatic and economic isolation caused by the U.S.-led global pressure campaign, an escalating array of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, the COVID pandemic and North Korea’s self-imposed border shutdowns have exacerbated the environment for economic and business engagement. At the people-to-people level, the barriers to engagement have even begun eroding relationships and local know how for many U.S.-based organizations.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Education & Training

A Look at the Laws of War — and How Russia is Violating Them

A Look at the Laws of War — and How Russia is Violating Them

Thursday, September 29, 2022

By: Lise Morjé Howard, Ph.D.

In recent weeks, Ukraine’s swift counteroffensive has led to the discovery of yet more heinous acts committed by Russian forces against Ukrainian military personnel and civilians. These add to a growing list of atrocities discovered in towns like Bucha and Irpin. Indeed, as the war has ground on, we have heard a lot about Russia committing crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity, possibly even genocide. The types of crimes are numerous and somewhat confusing. It’s worth taking a moment to sort out the differences between the basic categories of crimes, to better understand what’s happening in Ukraine, and to contemplate what these crimes may mean for the future of world peace.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

View All Publications